Daycare Trust warns that the childcare gap is set to widen as more women with children work and government policies such as Welfare to Work increase demand for childcare.
At present there are nearly six million children under the age of eight in Britain, but less than 700,000 registered childcare places. Those who can take advantage tend to be the "work rich families" - well-paid qualified parents - while "work poor" families cannot afford the large amounts of money necessary.
The cost of childcare has increased dramatically between 1991 and 1994, rising by 42 per cent, and the childcare bill for an average family with two young children is almost pounds 6,000 a year when the average amount spent on food is only pounds 4,000.
The average cost to a parent per child per week can be between pounds 50 to pounds 120 for a childminder full time or pounds 70 to pounds 180 in a private nursery. Even employing a childminder just for out of school hours comes to between pounds 25 and pounds 50 a week.
As a result, the charity says that almost half of working women with children rely on "informal" childcare arrangements with relatives, partners or friends. Around 800,000 children under 12 are "latchkey" children and although out of school childcare has been kick-started by the Government's Out of School initiative there is still only one place for every 50 schoolchildren.
The amount of childcare also differs widely around the country, resulting in a "fragmented patchwork of services depending on local income levels, local authority policies and the socio-economic history of an area." says the report. Only 10 per cent of rural parishes have a nursery and only 4 per cent have out of school facilities.
"Children are missing out on quality childcare because they live in an area where it does not exist or their families can't afford to pay for it. Parents are missing out on the chance to work or study because they cannot find childcare they can afford." said Colette Kelleher, director of the Daycare Trust.
She added: "The childcare gap is costing Britain dearly. With more women with dependent children working the demand for quality affordable child care has never been greater. Employers need to be able to recruit and retain the best staff yet many parents have to worry day in, day out about their children's care."
t The Childcare Gap is available price pounds 2 from Daycare Trust, 4 Wild Court, London WC2B 4AU. Tel 0171 405 5617Reuse content